At the Hola Mohalla festival (Olwen Law reports)
Posted on April 15, 2016
Today has been the focus of our ride – to visit Hola Mohalla – a Sikh festival initiated by the tenth guru in 1757. Technically Hola Mohalla is on the day after Holi, the Hindu festival of colour, however the Hola Mohalla festival at Anandpur Sahib is now a week-long celebration with Sikhs travelling from all over India and further afield to listen to poetry, lectures and music with displays of martial arts and horsemanship. As we’ve ridden towards the town of Anandpur Sahib we’ve seen people travelling by bike, tractor and car. And now that we’re camped just outside of town, we can hear booming loudspeakers and know that the festivities are well under way.
It was clear from our short visit last night that it would be easier to visit the festival if we weren’t in western dress. The tailor who took our measurements just a couple of days earlier has been hard at work and our new outfits arrive. With only some guidance on our favourite colours, we have left the choice of fabric to the colonel’s wife and we all agree she has done an amazing job of getting them just right for each of us.
The men too must have their heads covered.
So, from behind at least, we feel that we look the part.
A very hard working tourism official has arranged for us to get early entrance into Virasat-e-Khalsa, the beautiful museum of the Sikhs at this holy town of Anandpur Sahib. The museum, opened in November 2011, celebrates 500 years of the Sikh history and the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa.
The architecture is stunning and the exhibits fascinating. We spend ages studying a three storey high colourful mural with hundreds of illustrations depicting Sikhism both historically and today, all the more real to us as we’ve ridden through rural Punjab for the last five days.
We learn that the Sikh religion is one of the world’s youngest religions. Between 1469 and 1708, ten Gurus preached a simple message of truth, devotion to God, and universal equality. See www.allaboutsikhs.com. The tenth Guru strengthened the Sikhs as a strong military force, skilled in archery, horsemanship and swordsmanship, whilst also promoting their spiritual faith. He fortified Anandpur Sahib and created the “Khalsa” – who observe and follow a strict code of conduct to call themselves Sikhs. The Hola Mohalla is particularly a celebration for the Nihang Sikhs who were the elite fighters in the Khalsa. They are easily recognised by their distinctive blue dress.
We spend about one and half hours at the museum and could probably have spent twice this time but for the fact that there was so much in the town to see.
The Colonel has arranged for some Nihang Sikh from his home town to meet us and escort us. These are architects, doctors and teachers in real life, but today they are celebrating their history.
The height of our main guide made it much easier for us to see him and keep together to navigate the crowds.
Having taken off our shoes, we join a huge crowd visiting a temple. We walk around the outside of an open area where many people are relaxing and listening to the teaching and singing. The volume is turned up to the absolute maximum.
The crowds are carefully managed and ceiling fans keep us cool as we walk around the temple.
One of the features of the Sikh religion are langars (voluntary community kitchens) organized by the local people and there are a number of them at the Hola Mohalla. Here anyone can receive a meal, with everyone eating on the floor to symbolise their equality.
There are a number of impressive turbans, some really huge.
We see a number of horses in a separate area.
These are horses used for demonstrations and go from town to town, although the Colonel recognises this one.
The main horsemanship events are happening later in the week, but we see one fellow riding bareback doing some daring displays of horsemanship and making his horse leap – with a rear and buck at the same time (like a capriole in Spanish classical dressage).
The atmosphere walking around the town is light and fun – and as we have found all week, there are as many people taking pictures of us, as the other way around.
Later in the afternoon we attend the opening of the martial arts displays. We have front row seats, although that does mean we need to be early and have to sit awhile (in the sun) through a lengthy opening ceremony attended by the leader of the Nihang. There is a rather impressive display of arms – swords and lances carried by the Nihang and machine guns carried by police.
We see team displays all carried out to a background of very loud booming music (in the past it would have been loud drumming creating the beat and atmosphere).
It is impressive and fast.
The swordfighting was a bit like fencing.
It has been a truly amazing day and a fitting climax to the week. A memorable day of intense colour, mesmerising noise, friendly and welcoming faces, history and culture.
You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:
Arriving in Delhi
From Delhi to Chandigarh
First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens
From first camp to Siswan
From Siswan to Nalagarh
From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh
From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib
At the Hola Mohalla festival
From Hola Mohalla to Shimla
We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.inthesaddle.com